Better climb Cape Henry Lighthouse while you can. It’ll close this fall…for much-needed restoration

Historic landmark will get $1.5 million in preservation and improvement

  • The Cape Henry Lighthouse, was built in 1792 (Southside Daily photo)

    The Cape Henry Lighthouse, was built in 1792 (Southside Daily photo)

  • The Aquia sandstone foundation of the 226-year-old lighthouse, once covered by sand, is experiencing erosion and damage from the elements. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    The Aquia sandstone foundation of the 226-year-old lighthouse, once covered by sand, is experiencing erosion and damage from the elements. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • When the lighthouse was built no steps were needed. The sand dune was level with the door. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    When the lighthouse was built no steps were needed. The sand dune was level with the door. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • The foundation, once covered by sand, has been exposed to the elements as the sand dune has experienced erosion. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    The foundation, once covered by sand, has been exposed to the elements as the sand dune has experienced erosion. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • Names and initials have been carved into the soft Aquia sandstone. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    Names and initials have been carved into the soft Aquia sandstone. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • The interior walls will be cleaned and painted their original white. Often called a

    The interior walls will be cleaned and painted their original white. Often called a "tower within a tower" the extra support was added when the wood stairs were replaced by heavy cast iron stairs. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • The cast iron stairs wind their way up 93 feet to the top of the tower. They will be painted to their original red. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    The cast iron stairs wind their way up 93 feet to the top of the tower. They will be painted to their original red. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • From the top of the Cape Henry Lighthouse the Chesapeake Bay can be seen along with the lighthouse that replaced the original. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    From the top of the Cape Henry Lighthouse the Chesapeake Bay can be seen along with the lighthouse that replaced the original. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • The Cape Henry Lighthouse, left, the gift shop, center, and the lighthouse that began use in 1881, right. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    The Cape Henry Lighthouse, left, the gift shop, center, and the lighthouse that began use in 1881, right. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • Jessica Kinder, site coordinator for the Cape Henry Lighthouse, standing by the exposed foundation of the lighthouse.(Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

    Jessica Kinder, site coordinator for the Cape Henry Lighthouse, standing by the exposed foundation of the lighthouse.(Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

  • An artist's rendering and aerial view of the Cape Henry Lighthouse after restoration work (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)

    An artist's rendering and aerial view of the Cape Henry Lighthouse after restoration work (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)

  • An artist's rendering of the top of the Cape Henry Lighthouse dune after restoration work (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Mark Reed, Historic Preservation Planner, City of Virginia Beach)

    An artist's rendering of the top of the Cape Henry Lighthouse dune after restoration work (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Mark Reed, Historic Preservation Planner, City of Virginia Beach)

VIRGINIA BEACH — This summer looks to be the last chance for locals and tourists alike to see the old Cape Henry Lighthouse as it is before a $1.5 million restoration project begins in the fall, bringing much-needed improvements to the 226-year-old structure.

The work will be funded by donations and by federal grants obtained by Preservation Virginia with the assistance of the City of Virginia Beach.

Site Coordinator Jessica Kinder said the lighthouse, which was constructed in 1792, will close to climbers this fall, but the shop will remain open and walking tours of historic Cape Henry will be given beginning in July.

“The foundation is about 20 feet deep and about half of it is exposed due to erosion of the sand,” Kinder said. “The dune is unstable. There are a lot of exposed rocks and bricks.”

Work will be done to the top of the dune the lighthouse sits on, raising it 2-to-3 feet. The dune around the base be built up with a soil mixture that can be easily compacted and prepared, then a concrete slab will be poured.

Kinder said they expect the work to take approximately six months.

Vegetation that has grown around the top of the dune will be removed, improving views of the surrounding area.

Kinder said the part of the foundation that is exposed, which is constructed of Aquia sandstone, will be surrounded by a vertical retaining wall covered with a granite veneer. The new wall won’t touch the old foundation and the space between will be filled with soil, sand, or a mix, and sea grass will be planted at least two feet from the original foundation. This will help protect the original foundation, while the new wall will also provide seating for visitors.

The old stairs leading up into the lighthouse entrance will also be replaced and new signage will be mixed in with some of the old. Kinder said a granite slab will be installed, with a map of the lighthouse’s location, other Chesapeake Bay sites of interest, and a compass rose.

A new ventilation system will also be added, she said.

The exposed Aquia sandstone shows signs of significant wear and erosion, and in a few places there’s vandalism, as people have carved names and initials into the soft stone surface.

Kinder said a dig in 2014 found the sandstone that was not exposed was not eroding like the stone above it. The rest of the lighthouse, the 93 feet that was originally above the sand, was built using Rappahannock freestone.

A new drainage system will be added to the stairs that lead up from the base of the dune to the lighthouse.

The Cape Henry Lighthouse was the first lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay and the first one constructed by the government of the new United States after the Revolutionary War.

The Cape Henry Lighthouse was operational from 1792 to 1881.

This story was updated June 6, 2018, changing the closing date to this fall and clarification was added concerning the granite retaining wall.

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